The women’s movement will forever be ongoing, the fight for equal rights, pay, treatment will not stop until women will be treated equally.
In the early 20th century, the focus of middle to upper class women in the UK was to gain the parliamentary suffrage. There were two different groups with two different means to gain the vote. The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies’ (NUWSS) aim was obtain the vote via peaceful and legal channels, such as petitions and Bills through parliament. On the other hand, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) were more militant in their approach to campaigning, with the slogan ‘deeds not words’. This split already put a strain on the cause, especially as WSPU were constantly ridiculed by the press and parliament. The strain meant that the cause was deemed unworthy by those who voted against the cause, particularly as the women of WSPU were acting unladylike.
This post is going to look at the protest on 18th of November 1910 that resulted in a Black Friday. The protest had 400 women of WSPU, led by Emmeline Pankhurst and Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, against the recent announcement from newly elected Prime Minister Asquith that ‘there would be no more time ‘to a Bill which would give the vote to some women’. This announcement encouraged women of WSPU to peacefully (though this is disputed) march to parliament to voice their disagreement on Asquith’s statement and carried banners with statements such as ‘No more shuffling, carry the Bill’ and ‘Down with the Premier’s veto’.
By the time they reached parliament, they were met with many groups of policemen. As the protesters attempted to speak out and reach parliament, different accounts suggest that the policemen attacked and hit them with batons. More extreme accounts note that the policemen also dragged suffragettes to side streets and sexually assaulted them. There were many assaults on the suffragettes, and many were also arrested, they include Mary Taylor, granddaughter of John Stuart Mill, and Helen Craggs, daughter of Sir John Craggs. The government attempted to hide this dispute but The Mirror published a photograph of suffragette Ada Wright being attacked by a policeman as she laid on the floor covering her face. Despite this photograph as evidence of the attack, The Times published an article praising the police on ‘carrying their duty’, and noted that the police themselves were attacked by the suffragettes. However, the article tells of Lady Stout, the wife of the Chief Justice for New Zealand, and her experience of the demonstration. Her words were:
‘policemen who met the women were the roughest, bloated-looking people she had ever seen in her life’ – Lady Stout
This quote from a senior figure brings worthiness to the cause, as the women were treated terribly despite their peacefulness.
In what way did Black Friday contribute to the cause that the suffragettes, and to an extent the suffragists, were fighting for? Using Tilly’s social movement theory, we’ll look at whether or not the suffragettes who suffered the event of Black Friday. Historically, the WSPU were known for being violent, removing the worthiness of the cause and the work of the suffragists who worked through petitions and other peaceful means. The event of Black Friday, its media response and the photographs published did in fact retrieve some worthiness, as the women were unfairly treated and many were abused. Ultimately, though, the real cause of the women’s suffrage movement gaining worthiness was the work the women did during WWI. The Unity of the suffragette movement was severely lacking, as there was a major split between WSPU and NUWSS, restricting in how much work the two factions could do without ruining the reputation and cause of votes for women. The Numbers were significant, as NUWSS had 50,000 members and ‘at its peak’, WSPU had 2,000 militant members. These numbers suggest that the movement was popular within women. However, it was known that the movement was for middle to upper class, and ignored working class women. The Commitment of the suffragettes and suffragists was also strong, as the suffragists had over 1500 signatures on one petition in 1866, and many suffragettes were committed to their cause in a militant way, with many being arrested, put in prison, and often force fed.
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